World Hippo Day on February 15 celebrates the extraordinary hippopotamus and encourages people to take action to prevent its extinction. Did you know that before 1909, scientists placed hippos in the same group as pigs? Despite their outward similarities with pigs or wild boars, hippopotamuses are closely related to whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Hippos are semiaquatic mammals that are native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are herbivores and can weigh up to 2,000kg, making them the third-largest land mammal after elephants and rhinos. Hippos are primarily found in rivers, lakes, and mangrove swamps.
History of World Hippo Day
Hippos are thought to have originated from a group of semiaquatic animals called Whippomorpha. This group later split into two branches around 54 million years ago. The first branch, which includes whales and dolphins, evolved to become complete aquatic cetaceans. The second branch became anthracotheres, a close ancestor of the common hippo.
During the Pliocene Epoch (over two million years ago), all branches of the anthracotheres went extinct, except those that evolved into Hipopotamidae. This group of hippo ancestors migrated to Africa around 35 million years ago and dominated the continent as one of the earliest large mammals. Between 16 and eight million years ago, the oldest known hippopotamid, Kenyapotamus, strived in the African continent. But the group that later evolved into the modern hippo was Archaeopotamus, which lived between 7.5 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa and the Middle East.
There were ancestors of the hippo in Europe and the British Isles before the last glaciation, including the European hippopotamus — Hippopotamus antiquus — Hippopotamus major, and Hippopotamus gorgops. But these species of hippos went extinct, and the exact reason is still unknown, although scientists hypothesize it might be because of man.
Ancestors of European hippos migrated to many Mediterranean islands during the Pleistocene, evolved, and later became extinct. These species of hippos include Cyprus dwarf hippopotamus, Hippopotamus pentlandi, Hippopotamus melitensis, and Hippopotamus creutzburgi. Between 50,000 and 16,000 years ago, all hippos in the supercontinent, Eurasia, went extinct.
In North America, there were anthracothere genera in the early Oligocene (over 23 million years ago), but no evidence of hippos has ever been found on the continent. Many attempts have been made to introduce the species into the U.S., but they have never been successful. That was until Pablo Escobar illegally imported four hippos to Columbia in the late 1980s. This population of hippos has since grown to about 100.
World Hippo Day timeline
The ancestor of the hippo splits into two branches, with one branch evolving to become Hipopotamidae.
The U.S. senate nearly passes a bill to import the hippo to control water hyacinth and help solve the American meat crisis
Pablo Escobar imports four hippos from New Orleans to his estate in Hacienda Napoles, Medellin, Colombia.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the hippo as a vulnerable species on its Red List.
World Hippo Day FAQs
What does a hippo do all day?
Hippos spend 16 hours out of the 24 hours in a day submerged in water to keep their vast bodies cool, hence the name ‘hippopotamus,’ meaning ‘river horse’ in Greek. At night, the hippo leaves the water to feed on grasses.
What is the importance of hippos?
Hippos are vital to Africa’s rivers and lakes. Their solid waste provides the ecosystem with a vast amount of nutrients and helps certain fish species to strive.
Is a hippo bulletproof?
No. While the hippo’s skin is about two inches thick, a bullet can still pierce their skin if shot at their torso. However, you can say that they are almost bullet-resistant.
How to Observe World Hippo Day
Go and see a hippo
This is definitely the best way to celebrate. There are several places where you can see a hippo. You can go to a zoo near you and check out the hippo exhibit. Also, you can travel to one of the many African safaris. Many tour companies are available that specialize in safari tourism. These allow you to get close and personal with the animal itself.
Watch a film featuring hippos
“Madagascar” is one of our favorites. It’s an animation of a group of zoo animals, including a hippo named Gloria. You can spend World Hippo Day watching the adventures of Gloria and zoo-animal friends or check your movie streaming service for another movie that features hippos.
Donate to an animal foundation
The population of hippos is dwindling in the wild. Many animal conservation organizations are working around the clock to prevent this animal species from going extinct, but they need your support to succeed. One way you can help is by making donations. Even a dollar may save one hippo.
5 Interesting Facts About Hippos That Will Blow Your Mind
Hippos don’t really swim
Instead of swimming, hippos walk or run along the riverbed.
Hippos have natural sun cream
When sunbathing, the hippo secretes an oily reddish-orange slime that protects their skin from ultraviolet rays and harmful bacteria.
Hippos are related to whales
Hippos and whales share the same semi-aquatic ancestors that lived around 54 million years ago.
Hippos have tusks as teeth
The hippo’s front teeth are tusks, which they use to defend themselves against threats.
Hippos are faster than Usain Bolt
Despite their enormous size, hippos can run at a speed of 19 to 30 miles per hour.
Why World Hippo Day is Important
It encourages people to take action against hippo extinction
Hippos are currently identified as vulnerable species, with about 115,000 to 130,000 remaining in the wild. Their declining population is attributed to poaching, loss of access to fresh water, mechanized farming, and urbanization. World Hippo Day brings people’s attention to the threats that hippos face and encourages them to take action, either by educating other people, running a conservation effort, or donating to animal conservation organizations.
Hippos are essential to the ecosystem
The hippo’s dung or solid waste provides rivers and lakes the necessary nutrients for life in the ecosystem to strive. If hippos go extinct, there will be a drastic reduction in certain fish species and algae populations, eventually leading to food shortages in African water bodies such as Lake Victoria.
Hippos are fascinating creatures
Hippos are the only mammal that lives both on land and water. It serves as a bridge between both worlds, taking nutrients from land and dumping them in water bodies. They have sensitive skin yet are one of the most aggressive mammals. Despite their enormous size, they can still run faster than an Olympic sprinter. All these and more make the hippo a fascinating animal.
World Hippo Day dates